TGIF: Last Hurrah Before the Baby!

Joan of Arc's new pronouns. Dr. Oz's crudité faux pas. Brian Stelter's exit. And much more.

TGIF everybody. This will be my last installment til mid-October when I re-emerge as a mother. Please be brutal to all my significantly more famous guest star replacements.

Also, if you were busy actually enjoying your August and spending time away from the screen, it was a great week at Common Sense. Read Bari on Salman Rushdie; Rob Henderson on Rich Friends and Poor Friends; Nancy Rommelman’s report from Kansas, which just voted to protect abortion rights; and Larry Summers on inflation and the “New McCarthyism.”

Now to the news:

→ Republicans are taking hits in polls: One group swinging to the Dems? Dads, apparently. A Fox News poll shows a big shift from America’s dads. In May, congressional Republicans had the dad advantage: 53 percent versus 33 percent. By August, dads had swung by 28 points! Now, here’s the dad breakdown: 44 for the Dems and 36 percent for the Republicans. 

Part of this might be a reaction to the more fringe candidates who’ve won recent Republican primaries. Well, maybe. I wouldn’t call Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz fringe, but he’s definitely cringe (sorry!). This week, a video his campaign made started circulating. It shows Dr. Oz walking into a Redner’s for crudité, in an effort to highlight inflation. He calls it “Wegner’s” (apparently merging Wegmans and Redner’s) and it’s downhill from there. Internal GOP polling shows his progressive competitor, John Fetterman, up 18 points over Oz, according to Politico’s Alex Isenstadt. According to that same internal GOP polling: In the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Democrat Josh Shapiro is up 15 points over Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, who has played footsie with QAnon and paid the right-wing (and quite antisemitic) social network Gab a $5,000 consulting fee. Anyway, someone please help Dr. Oz prepare for his party. He looks so confused.

With Biden’s approval rating low and Democrats so easy to skewer (school closures alone!), you’d think midterms would be a shoo-in for the Republicans. But with candidates ranging from the bizarre to the offensive, it’s not so clear. 

Or, as Mitch McConnell said this week, “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different, they’re statewide. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” Candidate quality is the key phrase here. (We’ve seen this dynamic play out before. In 2010, halfway through Barack Obama’s first term, the GOP was slated to make big gains in the Senate. But then, with the dawn of the Tea Party, they ran into “candidate quality” issues in several states, most notably, Delaware and Nevada.)

→ If you think energy prices are high here . . . Europe is facing a rough winter. Which is actually doing some good things in terms of silencing the irrational anti-nuclear energy Greens. Germany was going to close its three last nuclear plants. Now, in an about-face, the country has paused that plan and is keeping them open. Below is a good chart to get a sense of why—and of what life in Europe feels like right now. 

→ Islamist from New Jersey attacks Salman Rushdie: As the novelist sat on stage at the Chautauqua Institution, about to have a conversation on the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers, a 24-year-old named Hadi Matar rushed the stage and stabbed Rushdie. Iran put a fatwa on Rushdie’s head in 1989, offering more than $3 million to anyone who managed to kill him. Thankfully, Matar failed at that task, but he did stab Rushdie many times. Rushdie is now recovering but will be forever damaged by the attack (likely losing an eye and the use of an arm). 

Apparently none of this has given pause to a White House that is reportedly in the final stretches of the long delayed Iran deal, which has been an obsession of the left since Obama’s scuttled 2015 effort. If it passes, the genocidal regime would have access to over $100 billion in foreign cash reserves and get a lot closer to having a nuclear bomb. 

Looking back at Salman Rushdie, you can play a sort of “where are they now” with the early pro-fatwa characters. Like where is Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, Iran’s former ambassador to the U.N.? Teaching at Oberlin, of course! He’s the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair of Middle East and North African Studies. “At Oberlin, he developed innovative courses with an interdisciplinary approach to friendship and forgiveness studies and also initiated the Oberlin annual Friendship Day Festival.” 

→ I have Trump news exhaustion: This week, the Trump Organization’s former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, pled guilty to 15 felonies of various financial improprieties. Trump is still on the top of the Times homepage, and when I checked Thursday three Trump stories lead the most read list (readers need their heroin). 

As for the raid on Mar-a-Lago, we still have no real idea what was in those 20 boxes of documents fished out of the resort by 30 some FBI agents. I’m not taking a Trump v. DeSantis stand here at TGIF, but I will say I’m very bored of all Trump-related news. 

→ This is not how the CIA regains America’s trust: If you are of a politically conservative persuasion, you might think: The CIA is out to get Trump and all Republicans! The trouble with calling that particular notion a conspiracy theory is when the former director of the CIA calls you and all Republicans the most nihilistic, dangerous, violent, and contemptible political ideology in the world. Yes, more dangerous than ISIS and Al Qaeda. 

→ Boston Children’s Hospital’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week: One of our country’s most prestigious hospitals for children recently released a series of slick, beautifully produced videos advertising their services for gender non-conforming patients. 

The services include “gender affirming hysterectomies,” “chest reconstruction surgery” (aka double mastectomies)—all the classics of the modern pediatrician’s office. They put out videos with doctors saying things like “a good portion of children do know as early as from the womb” and “we see a variety of young children all the way down to ages 2 and 3.” Another video says that “playing with the opposite gender toys” is an indication of transness. 

A few things are happening now amid the backlash: First, the hospital is taking down the worst videos and deleting web pages about the services they offer (better to have it happen quietly). 

Second, the Department of Justice is now threatening action against critics. (“While free speech is indeed the cornerstone of our great nation, fear, intimidation and threats are not. I will not sit idly by,” writes U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.) And the mainstream media is careening into action to say criticism and debate on whether children can consent to double mastectomies is fringe far-right fascism disinfo fake. 

Here’s NBC News: “Boston Children’s Hospital has warned employees about mounting threats and is coordinating with law enforcement after far-right activists on social media began targeting the hospital with false claims about its treatment of young transgender people.”

The media is now pretending that this is all overblown. None of this happens to anyone under 18. But the hospital’s own website and research betrays this. The hospital’s website said it would perform vaginoplasties on children beginning at 17-years-old (that’s since been deleted). And there’s this study produced by the hospital staff on the 65 double-mastectomy surgeries they performed on minors, the youngest being 15.  

All of this is well within the new recommended practices: The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the leading advocacy group for transgender surgeries, lowered the recommended age for “gender-affirming” castrations and hysterectomies to 17. 

I’m glad the hospital produced these videos. They ought to be open about what they’re doing to children. And I’m glad these doctors are talking about their diagnoses of toddlers who dare to play with the wrong color toys or teen girls who hate their bodies. It’s then extremely fair to simply disagree and say, hey this isn’t good. As a former toddler who played with trucks, I’m glad I’ve managed to keep my uterus as long as I have. 

→ Meantime, in Florida . . . Medicaid will no longer cover hormone replacement therapy or surgeries for transgender people, including adults. Insisting that children can consent to life-altering surgeries seems to be backfiring for the movement, at least if the goal is securing rights for the vast majority of transgender people.

→ Three-year olds from poor families have to stay masked: All children between the ages of three and five in government-funded Head Start programs have to wear face masks all year, at all times, even outdoors. Of course, young children from wealthy families are not doing this, not this year. It’s only Head Start three-year-olds who have to stay masked up. 

How is this still happening with everything we know about the huge impact of masking on young children and the relatively minor risk they face from Covid? Masking preschoolers even outdoors has gone from a reasonable policy mistake made during a panic to a bizarre fixation, a sort of religious belief that doesn’t require evidence at all. While most of us are back to life as normal, the youngest, most vulnerable members of our society are forced to carry on living masked.

In related news, the CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced an overhaul of leadership since, when it came to Covid, “our performance did not reliably meet expectations.” One hopes that the agency can take a break from the soul searching and tell folks to just unmask toddlers.

→ Segregation is back, back again: UC Berkeley’s Person of Color Theme House has reportedly banned white guests from common spaces “to be able to avoid white violence and presence.” 

“When students do bring a guest, the rules direct them to announce it in the house guest chat and note ‘if they are white,’” reports campus news site The College Fix, which broke this story.

What about other races? Do you have to announce if your guest is Asian, Latino? What about biracial? These nuances are unclear, and dare I say it, problematic. 

I would gently suggest that bringing back segregation is a risky move. 

→ Speaking of illegal: The Minneapolis teachers’ union put a clause in their contract that white educators can get laid off first regardless of seniority. And no doubt, with all the kids leaving public schools, layoffs are inevitable. The new race-rule is meant protect teachers of color and “to remedy continuing effects of past discrimination,” according to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. This is, of course, against the law. The troublesome 14th Amendment with its Equal Protection Clause, goes something like: No State shall blah blah blah deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” What kind of monster would write that? 

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